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Americans are Booking Flights, but are Destinations Ready?

As airline travel begins to rumble towards a rebound, and as more travelers ditch cabin fever for cabin seats, a hopeful, profitable season of tourism seems imminent for a desperate hospitality sector. While hotels and restaurants are eager to welcome guests after a year-long layover, will they be ready?

Empty airports? Empty seats? Not anymore.

According to a recent article from Entrepreneur, the TSA is reporting its highest screening numbers in a year, indicating a swift rebound powered by postponed vacation time and pent-up wanderlust. Recent performance by airline stocks echo this outlook, as analysts have interpreted gains by United (NASDAQ: UAL) and Delta (NYSE: DAL) as signs that the travel industry as a whole is preparing for "take off."

As we previously reported, the most recent stimulus package emphasized relief for the hospitality industry, specifically for businesses crippled by tanking tourism and vanishing transient guests. This will hopefully provide an improved financial runway for hotels, resorts, bars, and restaurants still suffering from a rough 2020 as owners and operators will need to quickly rehire and reorient workers.

But despite optimistic forecasts, a sudden rush of tourism could arrive with an increased risk of potential service hazards. These dangers could also be compounded by an insufficient amount of time, and for large organizations, a deficit of active managers due to rolling furloughs from the COVID-19 crisis.

An extreme example what perils could lie ahead can be found in South Florida, as a recent surge of Spring Breakers emboldened by lax COVID-19 have flooded areas Miami, causing chaos for local law enforcement and local businesses. While this may be a unique case compared to what other communities experience in the coming months, it seems as if travelers and patrons are ready to move on from the pandemic in wild fashion, regardless of whether the destinations they will descend upon are adequately prepared.

And as guests arrive, so will their expectations. As members of the hospitality community know all too well, guests tend to overlook or discard uncontrollable factors when it comes to their hosts delivering on hospitality experiences, especially if it comes with a price tag.

In a recent article from the Associated Press, regardless of what external factors may have resulted in stressed hospitality environments like Miami Beach, travelers expressed the same unfazed critique of service that you might expect from a pre-COVID Yelp review:

"Reg Mac... spent $800 on his trip to Miami, which he said was a bust thanks to the 8 p.m. curfew. He’d been looking forward to letting loose... 'I was expecting to go out to enjoy the nightlife,” said Mac, who instead returned to his hotel room to sleep. 'The food was horrible and the service sucked.'"

Even with unemployment numbers showing a decline due in part to job growth driven by the hospitality sector, symptoms of operational atrophy and the inherent hiccups of a required ramp-up period could lead to a frantic, tumultuous turnaround littered with poor reviews and service failures.

And while there may be a fierce desire for the hospitality leaders to revert back to the familiarity of operational 'muscle-memory,' despite all of the the pains of the past year, tremendous progress has been made through adaptation, both in terms of operational innovation, and more importantly, a newfound openness by patrons to adopt new practices and accept evolving policies intended to relieve and assist the businesses that what nothing more than to please them.

Hospitality operators that continue to utilize digital menus, encourage mobile pay technology, and maintain a steady flow of revenue created by takeout and delivery orders will continue to reduce wait times, eliminate logistical inefficiencies, and provide a dynamic operational structure from which their staff can better operate.

In fact, while many businesses adopted new technology when foot traffic dwindled, many platforms focused on mobile ordering, mobile payment, integrated point of sale were initially intended for periods of peak business and present tremendous upside for those willing to embrace them.

But for the time being, regardless or what issues lie ahead, nothing should feel more reassuring to hospitality workers than the familiarity of wrestling with both excitement and dread for the busy, stressful, and profitable travel season ahead.


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